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It probably comes as a surprise to no one that the Washington Nationals have a pretty abominable team once again this season, and that they are tied with the Texas Rangers for the worst record in baseball at 8-17. That is exactly the sort of performance we have come to expect from the Expos/Nats after so many years of futility.

But need this have been the case? Today I got to thinking about some of the really great talent which has come into the hands of the franchise over the years, only to later slip through its fingers, and I got to wondering, what if the Expos/Nationals had had a real owner instead of being owned by the other 29 teams from 2002-2006? Or what if MLB had hired a competent general manager rather than Omar Minaya, who seemed more intent on padding his own resume for his next job with splashy deals rather than building for the future? What if the team had been able or willing to resign even just its most obvious stars? What kind of team could the Nationals have had today, and how much would it have costed?

Thus I set about on the following thought experiment to come up with the best possible Washington Nationals 25-man roster, out of all the players that have been firmly in the team’s control since 2002. This is what I came up with:grady.jpg

Starting Lineup

CF Grady Sizemore
SS Orlando Cabrera
RF Vladimir Guerrero
LF Jason Bay
2B Brandon Phillips
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Brad Wilkerson
C Greg Zaun

Starting Rotation

vlad.jpgSP Javier Vazquez
SP Chris Young
SP Jake Westbrook
SP Cliff Lee
SP Ted Lilly

Bench

OF Lastings Milledge
IF Maicer Izturiz
OF/IF Marlon Anderson
C Jesus Flores
OF Endy Chavezcliff.jpg

Bullpen

CL John Rauch
RP Chad Cordero
RP Luis Ayala
RP Jesus Colome
RP Saul Rivera
RP Ray King
RP Chris Schroeder

As you can see, this team would easily be the best team in the National League. The lineup is loaded with stars and superstars (the only real hole being at first base, where Javier Vazquez would not have been traded for Nick Johnson), the bench is full of extremely useful parts, and the rotation, while perhaps lacking a true ace, is filled with no. 2s and would easily be the best in baseball (especially the way Cliff Lee is pitching this year). In the lineup, rotation, and bench only third-basemen Ryan Zimmerman and backup catcher Jesus Flores survive from the current team.

As for the bullpen, I decided to keep the entire current Nationals bullpen, which is actually one of the best bullpens the franchise has had in years. The fact is, the Expos/Nats really haven’t let any great relievers slip through their hands, the way they have with the lineup and the rotation, so this pretty much is the best possible bullpen for them.

So looking at this team, it would have to cost a fortune right? Well actually, it’s not too bad. If you add up the current salaries of all of these players, you get a total payroll of only $93.8 million. While that is certainly more than the $55 million the Nationals are paying now, it would actually only be the 14th highest payroll in baseball today, for a team that would easily be one of baseball’s very best.

In my view it would be a team that could easily reach and win the World Series. Paying $94 million for that is a bargain, and sure beats paying $55 million to have the worst record in the game.

20 Responses to “The Team that Might Have Been: 2008 Washington Nationals”

  1. Concerning Juan Pierre’s milestone, the only question remains is what uniform will he be wearing when he reaches this mark! With Either, Kemp & Jones he’s going to be pinched for playing time, don’t you think?

  2. I like the milestone possibilities here. As for the Unit…he’s looking strong so far this spring…believe he’s going to get to 300…and maybe right on the number..and then retire.

    As for Bonds…would like to see him in a D-backs uniform this year. He provides that big bat for one year that this team so desperately needs.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    Peter, yes, the Dodgers have too many outfielders. But on the other hand, you never know what Joe Torre will do when it comes down to choosing the established veteran or the younger player with something to prove. Oh, wait…. :)

    And @ Andrew, I really hope Johnson gets to 300. He’s just such an awesome pitcher; I had sort of forgotten just how awesome, until I was looking over his stats for this post. But I must disagree about Bonds. I think any team who signed him now would be in for a massive headache as they tried to rationalize the signing of a player indicted for perjury—and for a still-young team like the Diamondbacks, that could be an especially fatal distraction as the season wears on. Yeah, they need a power bat. But they don’t need all that baggage.

  4. You forgot or overlooked or simple ignored…

    You forgot or overlooked or simple ignored…

    Johan Santana 100th Win. Needs just 7 more wins.

    Jason Isringhausen 300th save. Needs just 19 if he can stay healthy.

    And Cheater Jeter’s 250th hit. Needs 144 this season to reach 2500 on his career. Yank fans have been talking for the last 2 years about when he’ll reach 3000 hits.

  5. Paul Moro says:

    Doug, to be fair, there’s a lot of guys in line for their 100th win this year. I mean hell, Darren Oliver has a shot (well, maybe not, but still…)

    Same with the 2500th hit. It might be a big deal here in NYC, but Pudge, Lofton, and Frank Thomas, may all get there too.

    Izzy’s 300th save is a good point though.

  6. How about Greg Maddux’s 350th win?

  7. Sarah Green says:

    And Armando Benitez is in line for his 300th save too. If he gets out of Triple A this year.

    I thought about the 2,500th hit thing for a few guys. I didn’t forget it, overlook it, or ignore it. I just thought to myself, “since when is there a 2,500 hits club?” Same for 350 wins, though, yes, Maddux is only 3 away from that benchmark. To heck with these halfway marks!

    What’s actually more interesting to me about Maddux is that, if he doesn’t retire until he’s Roger Clemens’ age (45) and pitches well enough to notch 14 wins a year, he could top 400 wins. Now that would be hot (if improbable).

  8. Tom Hoffman says:

    The Sox have given up some great relievers over the years (Sparky Lyle, Dennis Eckersley), but if Gagne comes back strong it would be one of the wierdest things in the history of baseball. Perhaps you have a guilty conscience for the things you have said about him?

  9. Whoah, Tom, hyperbole much? One of the weirdest things in baseball history? Gagne had an ERA of 2.16 and a WHIP of 1.05 with the Rangers last season. Let’s not place too much importance on Gagne’s struggles over 18 innings as a Red Sox.

  10. Sarah Green says:

    The weirdest thing about Gagne’s struggles with Boston was his BABIP, which was in the .400′s in a Red Sox uniform (and nearly twice what it was in Texas). Surely, part of that is just luck—good luck in Texas, bad luck in Boston. After all, his K/9 was actually *better* in Boston. But part of the problem shows up in his groundball-to-flyball ratio, which deteriorated a bit in Boston. You won’t see the impact of that in his HR rate, but it does show up in his rate of giving up doubles—he coughed up 8 in Beantown, only 4 in Texas (and pitched almost twice as many innings in Texas). He also induced 3 DPs in Texas and none in Boston—it’s hard to get out of a jam when you can’t get a grounder to save your life.

    That said, the man still knows where the strike zone is. If he can keep the ball down, he’ll be fine. Not the Gagne of yore, perhaps, but fine.

  11. tom hoffman says:

    One inning doesn’t say that much, especially in spring, but if I’m right I’ll graciously accept apologies. I hope I’m wrong, but I’d say he’s finished.

  12. I guess it would be going too far back in time to give them Pedro Martinez, but at the very least they might have kept him longer and traded him for prospects better than *ahem* Carl Pavano. Those prospects may very well have gone on to be Sizemores or Phillipses. Either way, I never realized just how sieve-like they have been at holding on to young talent. Astonishing.

  13. Well you are going a little too far. With all those parts rising, one has to imagine they would have been a better team in 2004 which means no Zimmerman in the 2005 draft.

  14. Now that they have a new stadium and are operating in a bigger market they should have the resources to keep their own talent. The question will be if they can maintain the same level of scouting and player development that they have had in the past. Part of what hurt the franchise in the past was not getting quality prospects back for the players they couldn’t afford to keep. That shouldn’t be as much of an issue now.

  15. Nick Kapur says:

    Ben, you are of course correct. Obviously, to be completely accurate, you would have to try to find out all the draft picks they got as compensation for losing free agents, and also try to somehow estimate what their record would have been in all seasons from 2002 to present, and then guess who they would have drafted in lower slots, but that is maybe sort of just a little impossible.

    I tried to be as accurate as possible, within reason. It took me a pretty long amount of time just to trace through every trade and make sure I could build a team of guys where one guy I wanted hadn’t been latertraded for other guys who were later traded for another guy I wanted! For example, I couldn’t have both Orlando Cabrerra and Austin Kearns on the team, because Brendan Harris was part of both deals.

    So basically, I just tried to make a team of guys the Expos once had in their control that weren’t ever traded for each other or for people who were later traded for another guy. We’re dreaming here anyway, so we don’t have to take it so seriously.

  16. Paul Moro says:

    Nick, couple things:

    One, you can’t blame Minaya for what happened. He knew damned well that once the team was sold, he was out of a job. New owners always want their own guys in there. So what would he have gotten out of trying to build a team that has a chance to win in a few years when there was no way he was going to be around for it? MLB made him a lame-duck GM from the moment he took office.

    Two, I wonder how this roster will stack up against the other teams if this exercise was done for all franchises? I figure it’ll still be better than the Pirates, but if we created best-case scenarios for all teams, would it still make the Nats contenders?

  17. The worst thing here is that under MLB’s control, Minaya oversaw the fire sale – a true fire sale – of the Expos. Trading Bay, Phillips, Sizemore, and Lee in deals where they got nothing in return.

    The crime is that after MLB decided not to contract the team, and awarded the team to DC, MLB gave DC no recompensation for what MLB did to the franchise.

  18. Nick,

    Don’t worry, I was just trying to be a jerk and rain on your analysis. There’s too many variables, but it is kinda cool to look back on the what coulda been with all else being equal. Now if only they had someone over the last couple of years who knew how to draft or for that matter, traded Soriano.

  19. Nick Kapur says:

    Yeah, good points Ben, although I did hear that the Nats had a tremendous 2007 draft, so maybe things are getting better in that department…

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